Content Warning: This piece contains mentions of suicide.
As we head toward the end of 2019, we mark the end of another semester that, sadly, brought many stories of students lost to suicide this year.
CNN and other news outlets reported in recent weeks that several college campuses have experienced multiple suicides this semester, as well as unprecedented increase in demand for mental health services. Unfortunately, these schools are not alone. Nationwide, young adults are experiencing a rise in depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, please text BRAVE to 741-741. The world needs you here, and confidential help is available 24/7. Student mental health advocates and campus student groups are encouraged to use this Postvention Guide to help your campus grieve, recover, and improve culture and policies related to mental health so no one suffers in silence.
Our hearts go out to the campuses across the country who have lost colleagues, students and friends to suicide already this academic year. In the last decade, rates of depression and anxiety have grown exponentially for young adults. And too often, student health becomes a public conversation only following tragedy, and headlines focus on where schools are falling short and not enough on what is working.
The Active Minds Healthy Campus Award Key Findings Report, compiled of the promising practices of previous award winners, gives guidance to how campuses are approaching rising depression and anxiety among students, and can be used as a resource by anyone seeking to help build a more supportive campus mental health climate. Because while the causes of the rise in depression and anxiety are still less clear, the solutions are known:
- Involve everyone. Adopt a public health approach to mental health which involves the entire campus community and focuses on prevention as well as response.
- Champion student voices. Students know students, and there is power in peer networks. Young adults turn to each other when struggling with health and model their behaviors and attitudes after that of their peers. They should be seen and engaged as helpful assets in designing the best programming, strategies, messaging, and approaches to genuinely engage students.
- Align with leadership. When leadership allocates funding, staff time, and other resources to create sustainable programs, positions and services, the message to students, families, faculty and staff is that wellbeing and resiliency is a priority and valued.
- Make the financial case. Use data to make an economic case for how funding mental health and wellness initiatives may avert campus crises, increase retention, increase GPA and reduce the number of public incidents that bring negative attention to campuses.
- Make wellbeing a vision and a mission. Engage in a strategic planning process that engages all stakeholders in the wellness of all students and faculty.
- Use resilience programming to enhance wellness and connection. Offer services that address resilience, mindfulness, meditation, affirmation and appraisal skills, cognitive flexibility, personal meaning, social network building, and active coping skills, that improve students’ ability to compete in a demanding post-secondary environment.
- Define health broadly and comprehensively. There is no health without mental health. Applying a wellness paradigm means prioritizing mental health alongside physical health and using diverse strategies to address the multiple factors that influence health.
- Commit to sustainable systems change and long-term policy solutions. Attending to the mental health of the student body requires schools to supply sustained resources and attention on this issue to ensure student success, retention and persistence to degree completion.
- Cultivate a deep commitment to equal opportunities for health. We must work to address opportunity gaps that tend to disproportionately and negatively affect certain populations, such as racially-diverse students and those with limited English skills, lesser income, and/or a marginalized sexual or gender identity.
- Measure results. Collecting data-driven measures and outcomes and sharing progress with stakeholders are best practices for continuously motivating, guiding, and focusing action on campuses.
These solutions – the improved policies, enhanced campus culture, and more prepared individuals throughout the community – do not have to wait for next year. Let’s continue to change the conversation about mental health right now.
For more information, or to join our movement that is changing the conversation about mental health, please visit activeminds.org.